A FORCE FOR GOOD hub | Steve Reynolds Inspiring story, How SERENDIPITY can happen
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Steve Reynolds Inspiring story, How SERENDIPITY can happen

Steve Reynolds – Chief Executive Officer – APT Travel Group

Like most English kids, APT’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Reynolds grew up wanting to play professional football, or soccer as the Aussies call it. So how did he end up in the world of travel?

If it doesn’t OPEN… It’s not YOUR DOOR

“I received my education more because I had too, but my true dream lay in playing football,” Steve tells Jito.

“But growing older I began to realise I that may not make the grade, so the importance of pursuing my education was always there in the background.” Unsure of what career path he wanted to pursue, he decided to incorporate his love of sport into his education, selecting a university that specialised in sport science to do his degree. “That way I could still be connected to the sport in some way knowing that I wouldn’t be playing it professionally,” he says.

SET A GOAL that makes you want to JUMP OUT OF BED in the morning

During the summer holidays, Steve would teach sailing in the South of France with a company called PGL.

“It is a very well-known brand in the UK,” he explains. “You didn’t say you went to camp in the UK, you said I went on a PGL holiday – most kids between the ages of 8 and 18 would go on this holiday at least once, it was a kind of rite of passage.” When Steve reached the end of his degree, PGL asked him if he would like to run one of its activity centres as General Manager – an offer which he accepted. “It became like a management school for me, going from a pastoral care role into management,” he remembers. “They had fairly strict and highly regulated operating requirements because the environment included kids – you have to have the right staff with the right qualifications.” It was an important learning curve for Steve, especially dealing with a workforce that wasn’t motivated by money. “It became a whole new way of managing people by learning to appeal to what motivates them, stimulates them and drives them,” he explains. “So, this became a brilliant start to my management career.”

A little PROGRESS each day ADDS UP

Steve’s next move was the PGL head office in a little town in the west of England. “I had a number of jobs there and worked my way up through the different management layers,” he says. One of his standout projects there was the implementation of a new reservations system which used a browser-based platform which Steve describes as the “first of its kind”. “This was in the late 90s, back when most people didn’t really have email addresses, so working on something that was so cutting edge back then was quite exciting,” he recalls. “We revolutionised the business and moved from bank cheques in the mail to payments online which had a massive impact on the cash flow of the business. “I would never call myself a technical person, but from that experience I became aware of the power technology has to revolutionise a business.”

If it scares you IT MIGHT BE GOOD to try

Next on the cards for Steve was a big move Down Under – but his Australian journey wasn’t a career move, but driven instead by affairs of the heart. He had married a girl from Melbourne. “I married her in England, but we made the decision that when kids were on the cards, we would raise them in Australia,” he explains. So, in November 2001, they made the move to Melbourne. “We had just had the September 11 attacks and most people at the time thought anyone leaving a secure job to look for a new challenge in travel was crazy to do so,” he says. Steve applied for lots of jobs with little success, leading him to doubt his big decision to leave his great job behind.

Problems are not stop signs, THEY ARE GUIDELINES

Eventually Steve saw an advert in the newspaper for Tempo Holidays as a Reservations Consultant. He was familiar with all the destinations so was confident he could sell them. But when the Tempo boss called him, he revealed he was actually more interested in talking to him about his work on the reservations system at PGL because he was looking at implementing a similar platform at Tempo. After a chat over coffee, Steve put Tempo in touch with a company called Illusions that worked for PGL in the UK, leading to the signing of a contract between the two parties. The end result? Illusions offered Steve a consultancy role to facilitate the implementation of the travel system for Tempo. Although Steve described the turn of events as “very fortuitous”, he had no ambitions to be an IT consultant long-term. He informed Tempo of the temporary nature of the situation and asked that he be considered for any new opportunities with the firm that might be of interest. “So, they created a job for me at Tempo – a brand new role as Head of Product and the new technology system,” he reveals.

Today I WILL DO what others won’t so tomorrow  I CAN DO what others can’t

Tempo was the first online wholesaler using this kind of system, and also the first enabling direct payments so agents could make payments online and update bookings.

“Tempo really pioneered in that online space back in the early 2000s,” Steve says. “We won we the NTIA Award in 2003 and 2004 as the Best International Wholesaler, which for us at the time was a big deal.” When Steve joined the company, there were only eight reservations consultants. By the time he left, there were around 120 people in the business. “The business grew quite rapidly over that 10-year period,” he recalls. “My role changed throughout the business, from general manager to become the CEO in 2006.”

It doesn’t matter what others are doing IT MATTERS WHAT YOU ARE DOING!

In 2009, Cox and Kings bought the business, coinciding with the Global Financial Crisis. It was a turbulent time – people stopped travelling, currency “fell through the floor”.

“At that point, we realised we needed a multi brand strategy,” Steve says. He looked to the Cox and Kings stable of brands to see which would work in Australia, but also looked for new business that could complement Tempo’s existing operations. “This would help us grow the business and have a diversified approach that would de-risk certain world events,” he explains. So, the company bought Bentours, and one year later and introduced Explore Worldwide – at the time owned by Cox and Kings. “We introduced Cox and Kings as a brand as well and also an online business that was based in India,” Steve says.

SERENDIPITY

The last project Steve worked on in 2012 to 2013 saw him go full circle by introducing PGL to Australia following Cox and Kings acquisition of Holiday Breaks – a holding company for a number of leading UK leisure brands. Now PGL has four activity centres in Australia – three in Victoria and one up in Queensland. “So this full circle of events was a really nice way to conclude my time in Cox and Kings,” Steve says. “I started as an 11 year old on holidays, worked there throughout my time at university, then management, then to finally to get to bring it over to Australia was quiet a passionate thing for me.”

Great things never come from COMFORT ZONES

It was around this time that Steve was approached by Back-Roads with a job opportunity in London. “The business was really on the cusp of realising its potential, but I think they had a lot of turnover in staff,” he says. The business was in search of stability and scale, and needed someone to drive the business forward while preserving the integrity of the niche brand. In Steve’s first year at Back-Roads, the company carried around 3000 passengers. By the time he left three years later, that number had risen to just under 8000. “It was quite substantial growth over that time but it was really important we preserved the integrity of the product so that if you did a Back-Roads trip in Wales, Croatia or Italy, you knew what you were getting,” he says.

If you are not WILLING TO RISK the UNUSUAL, you will have to settle FOR ORDINARY!

Although Steve remembers the role as “great fun”, Australia was calling him back. Steve’s return Down Under saw him join APT charged with driving the brand’s profitable growth. “I look after things like the utilisation of our ships, and the deployment of our river ships and ocean ships,” he explains. With programs in Europe, Canada & Alaska, Africa, South America the US, Australia and New Zealand across six different styles of travel, he describes it as a “big job”.

RISK comes from not knowing WHAT YOU ARE DOING

So, after all these years, why is Steve still so committed to the travel industry? “I think the beauty of our industry is that there are no real barriers to getting on – it’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer where you require specific qualifications, and there’s probably not the stigma attached to where you studied,” he says. ‘You can work anywhere in the world whether it’s the UK or Australia, and If you apply yourself and you demonstrate that you can add value, and you understand the basic dynamics of the organisation that you work in, you can get on – it’s really that simple.” That’s why he didn’t hesitate to make the move from Cox and Kings to lesser known Back-Roads. “But look at the opportunity there – this amazing opportunity,” he says.

“Sometimes you have to see beyond where a company is at a given time to realise the opportunity.”

Here’s Steve’s ADVICE for those hoping to supercharge their travel careers:
  • You are probably the only significant obstacle to your own development – if you open your  mind then you really can achieve your goals.
  • Realise things don’t need to be taken so  seriously – we send people on holidays, it’s a fun thing to do, it’s not surgery.
  • Travel not just for pleasure but for the social and human connections – travel has taught me that people are far alike than they are different. 
  • Be persistent – you need to fail a certain amount of times to become a winner.   

CONNECT & INSPIRE

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